Menton is a coastal town on the French Riviera in the south of France.
Known colloquially as The Pearl of France, it’s easy to see why when you visit. It’s a picturesque little medieval town with small winding streets, colourful houses, and beautiful tropical and sub-tropical gardens set against a backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
Queen Victoria loved it so much when she visited in the late 19th century that she called it a “paradise of nature”.
It’s also one of the sunniest places in France, so there are lots of things to do in Menton year-round. As an added bonus, it’s an excellent base for exploring nearby places, both in France and Italy.
Read on for your guide for the best things to do in Menton. I’ve also included some information to help you plan your trip.
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Where is Menton?
Menton is located in the southeastern Alpes-Maritimes region of France, close to Italy. In fact, it’s so close you can actually walk across the Italian border!
It is approximately 30 kilometres from Nice and around 10 kilometres from Monaco. This means that it’s easy to combine a trip to Menton with a visit to other places on the Côte D’Azur. Or, you could choose to day trip to Menton from other destinations.
How to get to Menton
If you’re flying into the south of France, the nearest airport is Nice. This is about a 30 minute drive away (longer by bus). Alternatively, you can take the train, a journey of around 40 minutes.
All are fabulous journeys that take you along the coastline; you get some spectacular views in certain places.
You can also book a private tour from Nice that will take you on a day trip to Italy via Menton. If time is tight, this would be a perfect way to get a taste of the town.
If you’re coming from Italy or plan to visit during your trip, Menton is just a 20-minute drive from the border town of Ventimiglia. You can also catch the train here and connect to other local attractions. We took a day trip from Menton to San Remo when we visited.
Other nearby places include Monaco (around 20 minutes by train), Antibes (just over an hour), and Cannes (around an hour and a half).
Getting around Menton
Menton is a small town, and it’s easy to explore the centre on foot.
If you want to explore beyond the town, it’s easy to do this by public transport. There are two train stations, as well as the Zest Bus.
The best time to visit Menton
Menton has a pleasant climate of mild winters and warm summers. It’s also said to have its own micro-climate, which makes it sunnier and warmer here than other places along the coastline: the temperatures can reach the high 20s in centigrade during the summer months and there are average lows of six or seven degrees during the winter.
This means you could visit any time of the year. You can continue to enjoy the town’s beaches, gardens, and outdoor activities here well into the autumn and winter. In July and August, the town also holds a musical festival.
February is also a good time to visit. The town plays host to the annual Fete du Citron (the Menton Lemon Festival).
The festival takes place over a couple of weeks in the early spring and is a colourful and vibrant carnival of floats, statues, and exhibitions made from lemons picked from the local lemon trees.
Each year has a new theme. I visited during the Bollywood year and, among other things, saw a Taj Mahal made of fruit!
The top things to do in Menton
There’s plenty to do in Menton, whether you want to relax on the beach, explore the town or use it as a base to explore further afield. Here is my list of things to do in Menton on a short break.
Explore the historic old town
Menton is a small medieval town and a great location to walk around and discover.
When you wander around the centre, you’ll come across beautiful streets and squares lined with pastel-coloured buildings. There are also monuments that symbolise the area’s rich history, not to mention small citrus trees that line some of the streets.
Of particular note is the Place aux Herbes, the main square, where you can stop in one of the charming cafes and restaurants with their outdoor terraces. Menton’s old town also has an attractive Town Hall, the Mairie de Menton, on the Rue de la Republique.
And there is a busy and vibrant covered market hall – the Marché des Halles – where you can sample the sights and smells of fresh local produce and fabulous Mediterranean cuisine to give you an appetite for dinner.
If you can, try some of the delicious hot socca (a ‘flatbread’ or ‘pancake’ made from chickpeas) that you can buy in slices from some of the stalls. It’s amazing!
Near to the seafront, there is a historical monument of Queen Victoria, who regularly visited, and a statue of Saint Michael near the old port.
Aside from the great choice of cafes and restaurants serving delicious food in the historic centre, there are some fabulous shops to browse in in Menton’s old town. Many of these specialise in local products and souvenirs: these include handmade soap, lemon liquor, and olive oil.
You can also take a guided tour around the Herbin Confiturerie (the Herbin House). If you do this, you will learn about the traditional way of making jams and can also sample some of them, some of which are made using the area’s citrus fruits.
See the beautiful churches
Menton has a number of beautiful churches (eglises) to explore inside.
In the old town, you’ll discover the magnificent Basilica of St. Michael Archangel (Saint-Michel Basilica), a seventeeth-century baroque church with a striking bell tower.
Nearby is another seventeenth-century baroque chapel, the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (Chapel of the White Penitents). It’s worth taking a stroll up the steps to look at these two churches.
The music festival is held outside the Saint Michael Basilica in the summer.
The Cemetary of the Old Chateau (Cemetary of the Old Castle) is close by. The grave of William Webb Ellis, the creator of the game of rugby who died in Menton in 1872, is here.
Menton also has a Russian Orthodox church (the Eglise Russe de Menton) with a stunning blue dome. This was built by the Russian nobility at the end of the 19th century.
Relax on the beaches of Menton
Menton has some pretty beaches where you can relax, sunbathe, try out some water sports, and take in stunning views (note, however that some of these are private beaches: for general information on the public beaches you can visit, click here).
And with its warm climate year-round, it’s possible to take advantage of these stretches of golden sand for an extended period of the year.
All the beaches are recommended, but the Plage des Sablettes is particularly worth mentioning. It is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach with shallow water which makes it a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing on a sunny day.
It also has an incredible backdrop of the colourful houses and towering palm trees stretching up from the Promenade du Soleil running alongside it.
It’s beautiful here and you’re bound to want to take some photos.
Wander through Menton’s gardens
Menton also has some beautiful gardens to stroll in.
The Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden, initially the work of Lord Radcliffe, a British Army General and former Governor of Malta, is worth a visit. It’s about a 20 to 25 minute walk from Menton’s old town.
Set overlooking the sea, the garden has an Italian-Provencal villa set in a stunning terraced garden. It covers one hectare with sections dedicated to different types of exotic plants. These include plants from the tropics, from the Mediterranean, medicinal plants, and an orchard with citrus trees.
It’s an ideal place to relax (indeed, the garden was named after Radcliffe’s wife, with Val Rahmeh meaning ‘Valley of Tranquillity).
The garden is open every day except Tuesdays. It also shuts during lunchtime, so check the website in advance if you’re planning a visit.
If you’re a lover of gardens, also consider a visit to the Villa Maria Serena garden.
The villa is an imposing Belle Époque building built in the late 19th century. It has a garden where you can wander among the palm trees and look out from its hilltop setting towards the sea.
If this is something that interests you, check the website for ticket prices and availability. Opening times are limited and you can only enter as part of a guided tour.
Admire the work of Jean Cocteau
The French artist, poet, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau was a fan of Menton and was made an honorary citizen after decorating the town’s wedding reception hall in the mid 1950s.
As a result, Menton has several places where you can view some of his iconic work.
The Musée Jean Cocteau has a collection of works housed in the Bastion in the Old Port. This is open every day except Tuesday.
You can also admire some of his creations – and the work that endeared him to Menton – by visiting La Salle des Mariages in the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville). Cocteau painted a series of frescoes here and the doors and carpets. For just a few euros, you can pop inside and take a look.
The town also has a more modern Jean Cocteau museum: the Jean Cocteau Severin Wunderman Collection. This is a distinctive building you may see as you wander around the centre. Unfortunately, this is closed after it suffered storm damage in 2018, but it will hopefully reopen in the future.
Experience the Lemon Festival
Every year, Menton celebrates its delicious lemons with a huge festival. The Fête du Citron takes place over two weeks in February and features a massive parade of floats decorated with lemons and oranges, as well as various events and activities.
The town’s famous lemon festival is a colourful, vibrant, and fun event involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit. Using this fruit is a nod to the abundance of citrus fruits grown locally due to the warm micro-climate here. You’ll also see the fruit weighing down trees as you wander through the town’s streets.
The Fete du Citron has been running since 1935 and has a different theme every year.
In 2018 when I visited, it was Bollywood. The exhibition was filled with snakes, elephants, swans, tigers, monkeys, and Buddas. These were all painstakingly assembled with hundreds, if not thousands, of oranges and lemons. There was even a Taj Mahal of fruit!
In 2023, the festival will run between the 11th and 26th of February. The theme is ‘Operas and Dances’.
If you like festivals that are a bit different and of course, lemons, you’ll love this!
Visit other nearby places
There are lots of places within easy access of Menton that are worth exploring if you have the time.
I recently wrote a post about the 11 best day trips from Nice and given the proximity of Nice to Menton, all of the places on my list are also good options to consider.
The two below involve visiting other countries.
The Principality of Monaco is worth considering for a day trip, especially as it’s just 20 minutes away on the train.
Although this tiny country is only around 2 square kilometres – it’s the second smallest country in Europe after the Vatican City – its packed full of things to see and do. It would be a great day out from Menton.
You can see the glitz and glamour that Monaco is famous for in Monte Carlo. The casino is a magnificent, opulent building where you’ll see expensive vintage cars pulling up. The marina is nearby where there are some of the most luxurious yachts in the world.
You should also visit Monaco-Ville, the old quarter on ‘The Rock’, a headland 200 feet above the sea. You can get some of the best views out to sea and down to the harbour from this vantage point.
The Prince’s Palace, the official residence of Prince Albert II is where you can learn about the fascinating history of Monaco and its ruling family, the Grimaldis. There’s also Monaco Cathedral, the Oceanographic Museum, and the attractive Jardin Exotique.
And it’s a great place to visit for lovers of Formula One: if you visit in late May/early June, you may get to see the Grand Prix event on the Circuit de Monaco.
And if you can’t visit at that time, you can book your own driving experience!
San Remo in Italy is also a great day trip and within close proximity to Menton. We took the train to the city, changing at Ventimiglia.
It’s another coastal city with a stunning setting on the Mediterranean Sea and attractive architecture. The old part has narrow streets and impressive buildings, including several churches and palaces. Most striking is the early 20th-century Russian Church with its five distinctive domes.
San Remo is also home to the stunning Villa Nobel, the former residence of the Swedish chemist who invented dynamite and founded the Nobel Prize. The villa is now a museum, and inside you can see the many books and manuscripts that Nobel owned, as well as various personal belongings.
There is also a garden to explore, with sculptures and beautiful views over the town and sea.
Other places that you should consider day-tripping to are Cannes, and of course, Nice is a popular destination. See my recent post for more information.
Is Menton worth visiting?
A lot of people ask: is Menton worth visiting? There are many places on the French Riviera that you might choose to visit; some of these are much larger so there would be more things to explore.
However, Menton is a charming little place and definitely somewhere to earmark for a visit, whether on a short break to the town or as part of a more extended trip to the area. You can wander around a medieval old town, relax on beautiful beaches, visit world-famous art museums, head out to nearby towns and villages (and countries!), and experience unique festivals.
I’ve been twice and plan to go again!
Other ideas for short breaks and day trips in Europe
Menton is a perfect place for a short break. Its old town, beaches, gardens and museums, plus its close proximity to other destinations means there’s plenty to see and do on a long weekend. You can also eat some amazing food here.
I hope my post has been useful for you when planning your trip to Menton. For other ideas for short breaks in Europe, also check out some of my other recent posts: